FILM / The bare necessities of life: The flesh is weak, but its appeal at the box-office is stronger than ever. John Lyttle offers a scene by scene guide to movie seduction
Saturday 06 February 1993
So, in the selfless educational spirit shown by Damage, Basic Instinct and The Lover, here is a cut-out-and-weep guide to the celluloid mating dance, past and present.
For Your Eyes Only
The eyes are the windows of the soul. Unfortunately, in Fatal Attraction, Glenn Close's are double-glazed, a fact Michael Douglas is unaware of when the latter-day Medusa narrows her mascara meaningfully in his direction at a book publishing party. Yep, their eyes met across a crowded room, a cliche as big as life but not nearly so natural (cf also No Way Out, Letter to Brezhnev, Falling in Love).
Improve upon this important first impression by staring as if your contact lenses had suddenly melted, so blinding is the vision now before you (see Juliette Binoche / Jeremy Irons doing Damage). Or try Kathleen Turner's subtle combination, culled from The Man With Two Brains: sultry ogle, drop a shoulder strap, lick glossy lips, toss hair. She slinks, therefore she is.
But the ultimate gaze to duplicate is Rhett's once-over of Scarlett, a peer so potent that the Southern vixen declares, 'He looks as if - as if he knows what I look like without my shimmy]'
Look Who's Talking
Having made eye contact, you must follow up your advantage with a devastating line in chat. One can tease - 'I'd just love to kiss ya but I just washed ma hair,' purrs Bette Davis in the Cabin in the Cotton - or one can please. Check out Chaplin for Charlie's opening gambit with young and tardy Oona O'Neill: 'I was waiting for you.'
Frankly, 'I have crossed oceans of time for you' (with which Gary Oldman lures Winona Ryder in Coppola's Dracula) is a bit over the top. Likewise Larry (Deep Cover) Fishburne's 'I'm a nocturnal animal. I do things at night. Deliver money. Lingerie.' Try Harrison Ford's 'Say I want you' from Blade Runner (to reluctant replicant Sean Young), and you are likely to receive the understandable reply 'Where did you get that terrible haircut?'
Remember, it's not what you say, it's the way that you say it. Repeat after me Daniel Day Lewis's answer to Madeleine Stowe's 'What are you looking at?' in Last of the Mohicans: 'I'm looking at you, Miss.' Then try 'You know how to whistle, don't you?' (Bacall to Bogart, To Have and Have Not).
Whatever, never mimic Robert De Niro's tactics in New York, New York, intriguing Liza Minnelli with learned astronomy, only to wonder 'when it would be possible to view Uranus'. To quote Mae West's matchless brush-off in I'm No Angel: 'I wouldn't lift my veil for that guy.'
Kiss Me, Stupid
Brush and gargle furiously before attempting these advanced techniques.
The Gnasher: Julian Sands dives toward Helena Bonham-Carter and plants one (A Room with a View).
Poetry in Slow Motion: James Stewart dreamily puckers up for perky Grace Kelly (Rear Window).
The Oxygen Tent: Sean Connery's mouth, bearing an uncanny resemblance to five pounds of raw liver, descends on Tippi Hedren (Marnie).
The Needy and the Greedy: Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman make a five-course meal of one another (Notorious).
The Germ-Free: Alan Bates and George de la Pena osculate through a silk handkerchief (Nijinsky). Not recommended for those with colds.
The Big Wet One: Marilyn Monroe examines lover Don Wilson's dental caps in the shadow of Niagara. (The very opposite of a cold shower.)
Mouth-to-Mouth Enervation: that lie-down-and-stop feeling caused by Sleepwalkers and aliens who want your Lifeforce.
Oral sex isn't just talking about it. Different rules apply for girls and boys. Cunnilingus, for instance, invariably takes place indoors. Sharon Stone is safely bedded by Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct, and is thereby semi-domesticated. She may be mad, bad and exhausting to know, but it's within defined physical parameters - on the mattress and on the mat. Ditto the wilful ladies of Dangerous Liaisons ('We're going to start with a Latin expression'), The Hunger (Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon) and Betty Blue, though when Betty (Beatrice Dalle) returns the favour, she drops to her knees in a supermarket. Why?
Because fellatio, through ease of access and force of male fantasy, happens beyond the hearth, usually in cars, although Blow Up offers a telephone booth, Fatal Attraction an elevator (up and down) and Risky Business a train (in and out of tunnels).
Phallic symbolism runs riot. John Travolta spins his wheels and rolls his eyes in Carrie, Steve Martin hits a telegraph pole in Parenthood, while The World According to Garp takes the tendency to a nightmare Freudian conclusion. Here a collision interrupts Mary Beth Hurt's lip service, turning caress into bite.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: And so to bed . . . or maybe not. Emma Thompson and Tall Guy Jeff Goldblum made it to the bedroom but somehow never to bed. Exotic locales do have their dubious charm. Like the stove (Damage) ; the kitchen table (The Postman Always Rings Twice); the fridge and its contents (9 1/2 Weeks). Or the aeroplane toilet (Rich and Famous); the roof rack (in the forthcoming Madonna movie Body of Evidence). In front of the fireplace is a favourite from Streisand and Redford in The Way We Were on; but for the more adventurous, watch Top Secret, where the hero and heroine go at it dangling from a parachute. Last and least, the Bond series has highlighted Roger Moore rogering in space ('I'm attempting re- entry') and a submarine ('I'm keeping the British end up').
Cineramic sex happens everywhere, even in the kitchen sink. See Fatal Attraction.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Once more into the sheets, though it's no longer permissible to be there simply as flesh and blood. Toys are trendy. The perennial favourite is handcuffs, making special guest appearances in The 39 Steps, Tightrope, Body of Evidence (along with candle wax, not seen since Diana Ross stripteased during Mahogany) and Innocent Blood. For the faint-hearted and sensitively skinned, scarfs are a prudent investment (Basic Instinct, Bull Durham).
Look Who's Talking Two
Utterances in the throes of passion. Boys: 'Come and ride the baloney pony]' (Meet the Applegates). 'Take me, break me, make me a man]' (Thelma and Louise). 'I never knew it could be so . . . professional' (The Man With Two Brains). 'Who are you? Who are you?' (Damage). He: 'Darling, your breasts feel strange.' She: 'That's because they're real' (LA Story).
Girls: 'Let me be your sex poodle]' (All of Me). 'You're the best, you're the best' (The Stepford Wives). 'I want to say hello to the bald avenger' (War of the Roses).
Orgasm can turn people into animals. Into wolves, to be precise (The Howling). Or into insects. Meet the Applegates has the Big O transforming one clean-cut teenage bimbo into a giant cockroach. If in doubt, fake it. Sally did when she met Harry and Jane Fonda did in Klute, finding the presence of mind to check her watch and not be late for her next appointment.
There's no fire without smoke. Now Voyager's Bette Davis and Paul Henreid bucked the stereotype by huffing and puffing before bedtime (they swapped cigarettes). The movie convention has couples lighting up after consummation. An unconventional variant on this convention saw Gene Wilder and a sheep earning a government health warning in All You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask).
The Morning After
That terrible moment when you wake up, bleary-eyed and sated, turn, and really see what's all over the other pillow: The Godfather.
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